Tennessee 41 South Carolina 20: Treat

When you have this offense – especially when it just featured Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt, etc. – it’s easy to default the initial credit to the passing game. And even with a pair of interceptions and a heartbreaking injury, I thought Tennessee was good through the air Saturday night. Squirrel White had nine for 104, and the backs and tight ends combined for seven receptions. Variety may become the spice of life there as the Vols adjust to playing without Bru McCoy.

But in two other areas of the game, Tennessee redeemed its recent past and solidified a bright present.

Last year, South Carolina scored nine touchdowns in essentially ten drives. They punted once.

In Knoxville on Saturday night, South Carolina scored two touchdowns via one big play and one short field. Their other drives ended with:

  • Punt
  • Field Goal
  • Turnover on Downs (4th & 2 at the UT 32)
  • Punt (Three & Out)
  • Punt (Three & Out)
  • Punt (Three & Out)
  • Turnover on Downs (4th & 1 at the UT 35)
  • Punt (Three & Out)
  • Field Goal
  • Turnover on Downs

Spencer Rattler finished with 169 yards, his fewest since before the Tennessee game last season. And his 4.8 yards per attempt were the fewest of his entire career. It was an incredible response from Tennessee’s defense.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s offense ran the ball 40 times for 238 yards, right at six yards per carry. That average is the most for the Vols against power five opponents not named Vanderbilt or Missouri in the last three seasons. On the year, Tennessee averages 6.18 yards per carry, sixth nationally.

The challenge will certainly increase after the bye week, when Tennessee will face five Top 20 defenses via SP+, the best of which currently belongs to Texas A&M at #4. But through the first five games of this season, Tennessee’s backs are putting themselves in great company around here:

Tennessee Yards Per Carry Leaders, Post-Fulmer Era (100+ carries)

  1. Jaylen Wright 2023, 7.13 (current)
  2. Dylan Sampson 2023, 6.89 (current)
  3. Alvin Kamara 2015, 6.52
  4. Jaylen Wright 2022, 5.99
  5. Jabari Small 2023, 5.98 (current)
  6. Alvin Kamara 2016, 5.79
  7. Jabari Small 2021, 5.66
  8. Ty Chandler 2018, 5.48
  9. Marlin Lane 2012, 5.48
  10. Eric Gray 2019, 5.34

With Kamara the only back around here to average more than six yards per carry for an entire season in the last 15+ years, you can see the company this trio is currently keeping, as well as the value of the ground game in Heupel’s offense. It’s one of the most intriguing questions going forward: what’s the balance of this stable of backs behind Tennessee’s full-strength offensive line vs the quality of defense they’re getting ready to face?

That performance against South Carolina set the table for good-to-great. Credit this group for not only putting last year’s questions to rest, but establishing new answers for what this offense can be this season. Big win last week, big football on the horizon. Welcome to October.

Go Vols.

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Mr B
Mr B
7 months ago

Loved a lot about this game. Saddened about Bru injury. Ouch on the top 5 defenses for opponents stat. Can the Vols win on the road at night when they get the chance? Really like our home field advantage. Go Vols!

Matt
Matt
7 months ago

I would imagine these stats are skewed a bit because we haven’t experienced our fav time of the schedule?